Shocking discoveries regarding Assam eviction violence victims emerge from fact-finding report
Meanwhile, the Assam Government has continued to defend its stand in the incident.
On September 20, police in Assam’s Darrang district started an eviction drive in parts of Dhalpur village, claiming that the residents in around 800 households had illegally occupied government land. Three days later, police opened fire at some of the evicted residents who were protesting for their rights over their homes, and killed two protesters. Horrifying videos of a photographer violating Moinul Haque’s body by jumping over him lying lifeless on the ground drew the focus of the nation towards the incident that was mostly oblivious to the eviction drive just a couple of days prior. The incident and a fact-finding report by a committee appointed by the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPIML) Liberation has brought forth the plight of the victims of Brahmaputra’s erosion in Assam.
“On September 25th, we visited Dhalpur, the area where the eviction drive was conducted and even those who were injured and hospitalised. When we spoke to them and looked at their documents, we found that these people had their documents. They are not ‘illegal Bangladeshi migrants’ as they are called,” said Clifton D’Rozario, Karnataka Secretary, CPIML Central Committee Member, who was part of the committee.
"When we spoke to them and looked at their documents, we found that these people had their documents."
While Assam Government and police tried to justify shooting at the protesters by saying that they were the ones who incited violence, the committee has termed it ‘murder’. “We saw two homes near Moinul Haque’s home, which had not only been demolished but burnt down. Moinul was defending his home from arson and firing by the police and the “photographer” associated with the Darrang District Administration’s office. What can possibly justify 17 Assam police personnel opening fire on a lone man armed with nothing but a stick? This is not crowd control, it is not an ‘encounter’, it is murder,” the report said.
“Police beat him up with lathis after shooting him. The photographer jumped over his body after Haque was dead. How do you even understand this behaviour?” D’Rozario questioned.
“His family is traumatised. His little daughter is inconsolable."
The delegation that visited the village met Moinul’s family. “His family is traumatised. His little daughter is inconsolable. She has not stopped crying since the day he was killed. And all this because he tried to save him home from being demolished and burned down,” he said.
The report states that the evicted households have settlement papers dating back to February 7th, 1979, showing that they have been paying occupancy charges. “These people had identity cards, their names have come in the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) of India, they have land documents. How are they illegal?,” D’Rozario asked, adding that the people in the village have been affected by erosion caused by the river Brahmaputra for years and have been living in absolute poverty because of it.
“Every year, when the river floods their land these families are displaced onto government land where they are forced to live in temporary houses. After the flood subsides, they go back to their original homes if anything is left of it. If their homes are washed away by the river due to erosion and riverbank subsiding, they have nowhere to go back to. How can such households be termed encroachments?,” he added.
Riverbank erosion has been an old and devastating problem in Brahmaputra’s basin.
Riverbank erosion has been an old and devastating problem in Brahmaputra’s basin. Intense flooding, abundant sediment and undefined banks cause large-scale river erosion. These displace people, wash off their homes and fields. In fact, some villages in Assam have been asking for rehabilitation as well from the erosion-prone lands.
The committee also visited the erosion-affected twin villages of Lakia Dodia, where the villagers belonging to the ‘Mising’ indigenous tribe have been demanding permanent rehabilitation for years. The villagers affected by riverbank erosion as well as notification of protected forest area have been at least promised land by the government, although they have not received it yet.
“The 2019 Land Policy and Brahma Committee report talk of evicting non-indigenous “encroachers” from government land which will be distributed to “indigenous”. The definition of “indigenous” is not provided in the policy - why are families of Bengali-descent Muslims considered non-indigenous when they have lived on the land for four or five decades?” the report questions.
District officials and police in Darrang claimed that the evicted villagers were residing on ‘government land’, which was supposed to be used for landless indigenous communities. D'Rozario said that the government is clearly running its corporate communal agenda here. “While explaining the NRC, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had used the words ‘termites’ to describe illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. What is happening right now is a communal agenda,” he added.
Moreover, the report says that even though the government promises rehabilitation to the indigenous communities affected by erosion, the whole thing is a ploy to grab land to hand over to corporates as is already happening for instance in Nagaon district’s Mikir Bamuni.
The CPIML committee has now demanded a parallel investigation of the murders of Mohinul Haque and Sheikh Farid. “The SP Darrang and police personnel involved in firing and arson must be sacked, arrested and charged under all appropriate criminal sections including murder, arson and attempt to murder,” the report says.
Meanwhile, the Assam Government has continued to defend its stand in the incident. A sitting and former panchayat president each of adjoining villages in Dholpur were arrested on Sunday for allegedly conspiring to incite mob violence.
“The Government looks at this as a victory. These are the people living in absolute poverty. What victory does the government want to claim over poor people? What does the government want to achieve by claiming victory over poor people?” D’Rozario asks.